Declining new cases, hospitalizations and infection rates show Lancaster County residents have adhered to the latest coronavirus restrictions, the toughest since the spring shutdown, Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department Director Pat Lopez said Friday.
The county is on pace to end an eight-week stretch of increasing new cases, according to the Health Department.
Lancaster County's positivity rate has fallen to 27.4% from its local pandemic high of 33.9% set last week, she said.
COVID-19 hospitalizations, which had Lopez and local hospital officials stressed in their decisions and messaging, fell from a high of 177 on Nov. 29 to 116 patients on Friday, she said.
"We really feel that part of (the declines are) attributed to the community recognizing that we were really stressing the hospital system," Lopez said.
Friday marked the confirmation of three additional COVID-19 deaths in a week when Lancaster County recorded its highest single day of coronavirus fatalities.
The Health Department identified the deceased as men in their 60s and 80s who were hospitalized and another man in his 80s who was in a long-term care facility.
As of Friday, health officials had not detected any new coronavirus outbreaks in local nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, which had recently seen a spate of cases.
Entering Friday, 2 of every 3 deaths recently involved a long-term care facility resident.
Noting similar downward trends in coronavirus data, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts relaxed restrictions effective Saturday by expanding capacity for indoor gatherings and allowing general public attendance at youth sports events.
Lancaster County's local directed health measure, which targets indoor gatherings and has curbed bar drinking and curtailed restaurant hours, remains in effect until Dec. 18.
Bars can only sell liquor to go, and restaurants must close at 9 p.m. under the current restrictions.
The positivity rate in the county along with the case numbers will drive the decision on whether to lift those bar and restaurant restrictions, Lopez said.
Lopez likened the situation with bars and restaurants to the three-week postponement, review and reinstatement of youth sports.
Ultimately, the Health Department decided not to extend its pause on youth sports and ended it on schedule with Lopez attributing the time off as a positive step.
Joel Schossow, who owns McKinney's Pub, Tipsy Tina's Taco Cantina and Courtside Banquet Hall, said he hopes the Health Department ends the current restrictions, which have effectively kept customers home and jeopardized the livelihoods of many bar owners and their staffs in recent weeks.
Schossow encouraged dozens of other bar owners this week to use the LNK Recall initiative as a way of putting pressure on City Hall and as a check on what he views as arbitrary decision-making.
Lopez said the most recent restrictions have aimed to reduce gatherings and thus potential widespread transmission of the virus.
But Schossow said many local bars and restaurants have made an effort to enforce social distancing and sanitize and disinfect their establishments and outbreaks hadn't been traced back to these businesses.
He would support the restrictions if they applied to retail businesses and other industries the same, he said.
"We have to all be in it together," he said. "It can’t just be one segment of society."
What's more, the current measures have proved unenforceable, he said, noting that some businesses found in violation continue operating.
Earlier this week, City Attorney Yohance Christie filed additional misdemeanor charges against The Night Before Lounge and Grata for continued violations of the directed health measures.
Contrast that with the city's earlier moves to issue closure orders, including having the police enforce the closure of Madsen's Bowling & Billiards after it violated the mask mandate in August.
The city's approach has evolved, Christie said, though closure orders remain a possibility for noncompliant businesses.
"All options are on the table," Christie said during the news conference. "But more importantly, we want the community to come together."
Photos: The scene in Lincoln with much of city shut down
City Council distancing
Gameday empty Saturday
Thank you Bryan West
No fans allowed
Volleyball social distancing
Boo at the Zoo
Downtown mask art
Marching band competition
East Campus proposed budget cuts
No Football Saturday
UNL in-person class
Farmers Market influencers
Weeping Water vs. Fillmore Central/Exeter-Milligan
First day of middle school
First day of school
Pius X volleyball practice
House of Flowers delivery
City Council BLM protest
Rally and hearing
Lancaster County Super Fair
LPS board meeting
Meatpacking workers rally
Lincoln Northeast graduation
Gov. Ricketts address Legislature
Masked Archie the Mammoth
First Jury Trial in Four Months
Lincoln Community Playhouse
The Kindler Hotel
Garth Brooks Drive-In Concert
Urban Air Adventure Park
Gere Branch Library
Music on the Move
Bars Opening in Lincoln
LPS Teachers Retirement
Holmes Lake Manor Horse Visit
Lancaster County Courthouse
Church Social Distancing
Children of Smithfield
Parkview Christian Teacher Appreciation Day
Lincoln Christian 2020 Seniors
Test Nebraska site
Drive-Thru Career Fair
Center for People in Need food distribution
Masks For Truckers
Teacher and Staff Parade
Virtual City Council
Good Friday Music
Masks on a walk
Watch: A timelapse of the mural at Saro Cider
Watch: Hand sanitizer rolls off Innovation Campus assembly line
No fun here
Tower Square sign
WATCH: Celebrating a birthday with a parade
Simpsons in the windows
Drive-thru COVID-19 testing
UNL Beekeeping virtual class
Lincoln Lutheran Online Teaching
Blue for public health
Basketball without fans
Thanksgiving to go
Socially distant Santa
Christmas tree demand
Basketball fans reduced
Mike Hilgers at Legislature's First Day
Zoo Bar membership
New high school
Biking in snow
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On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.